Pontifical Academy for Life

No, to Euthanasia; Yes, to Love for the Sick

Pope Francis’s Message to the participants at the Meeting of the World Medical Association on end-of-life issues: “Fighting Pain and Loneliness”

“The categorical imperative is to never abandon the sick”. All are called to “give love in his or her own way—as a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a brother or sister, a doctor or a nurse. But give it!”. Pope Francis said this in the message he sent to Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and the participants at the European the European Regional Meeting of the World Medical Association on end-of-life issues, which ends today in the Vatican.

Although “the growing therapeutic capabilities of medical science have made it possible to eliminate many diseases, to improve health and to prolong people’s life span”, there is a growing “temptation to insist on treatments that have powerful effects on the body, yet at times do not serve the integral good of the person.”

Therefore, the withdrawal of “overzealous treatment” is—according to the Holy Father—"a decision that responsibly acknowledges the limitations of our mortality [...]. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies.

There is a “difference of perspective” that “restores humanity to the accompaniment of the dying, while not attempting to justify the suppression of the living. It is clear that not adopting, or else suspending, disproportionate measures, means avoiding overzealous treatment; from an ethical standpoint, it is completely different from euthanasia, which is always wrong, in that the intent of euthanasia is to end life and cause death.”

Yet, “the factors that come into play are often difficult to evaluate,” and, therefore, according to Francis, “there needs to be a careful discernment of the moral object, the attending circumstances, and the intentions of those involved.”

“And even if we know—he concluded—that we cannot always guarantee healing or a cure, we can and must always care for the living, without ourselves shortening their life, but also without futilely resisting their death. This approach is reflected in palliative care, which is proving most important in our culture, as it opposes what makes death most terrifying and unwelcome—pain and loneliness.”

17 November 2017
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